Five years ago this week, Americans opened their internet browsers and saw darkness.
Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and other major websites had banded together and gone dark to make a then-obscure piece of legislation infamous. Wikipedia shut down completely for 24 hours and a black band masked the Google logo.
These internet giants and other online sites joined millions of Americans in protesting the 2012 Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) legislation in a historic grassroots movement. More than four million people signed Google's online petition linked to the blacked-out homepage. Eight million people looked up how to contact their representative when prompted to by Wikipedia. Tumblr alone produced 87,000 calls to representatives. The vast numbers led most congressional sponsors to rescind their support of the bill.
SOPA and PIPA were well intended but ill-advised attempts on the part of Congress to protect the American copyright industry. But the legislation was so broad that it had the potential to harm or eradicate entire websites or online services, instead of specifically targeting individuals who uploaded illegal content.
The New York Times called the SOPA/PIPA protests a "coming of age for the tech industry," and at CTA, we were proud to help lead this vital growth. It was a bipartisan and cross industry effort: venture capitalists and law professors, computer scientists and human rights advocates, progressives and tea partiers teamed together to fight the bills. Still, the bills progressed through Congress and appeared to have the momentum necessary to become law.
The 2012 CES proved to be one of the turning points. We invited two legislators — Republican Congressman Darrell Issa and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden — to Las Vegas to explain how the bill would jeopardize the freedom of the digital world. Both policymakers made strong, smart and passionate cases, and the press and attendees listened. Within days, the tide had reversed, and members of Congress ceased their support of the harmful bills. Weeks later, SOPA and PIPA were history.
We did this because we believe innovation, not an overbroad law, is the best way to grow the economy and fight piracy. History has proved us right. In five years since SOPA/PIPA failed, we've seen many instances of market disruptions and many more cases of technological innovation. Spotify, the now-ubiquitous Swedish streaming service, intentionally developed free streaming as a legal competitor to illegal piracy. It worked: piracy has dropped significantly. In 2013, less than 10 percent of daily web traffic in North America came from peer-to-peer file sharing – a more than 20 percent drop from 2008, when it comprised 31 percent of daily traffic.
Even more exciting, streaming services also led to significant revenue growth for the music industry. The Recording Industry Association of America, one of the major supporters of the SOPA/PIPA legislation, reported an 8.1 percent increase in overall revenues from the first half of 2015 to the first half of 2016. This was due in large part to paid subscriptions to streaming services.
Other content industries have experienced massive growth as well. Video streaming programs such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu continue to thrive. U.S. consumers spent 22 percent more on subscription video streaming services in 2016 than in 2015.
The combination of audio and video streaming takes up a whopping 71 percent of evening home entertainment in North America, and this number should only grow in the coming years. Once at odds on the floor of Congress, the innovation of the tech industry and the creativity of the media industries now mutually support and sustain one another's growth.
New technologies will lead to the same market disruptions that the internet prompted for the media industry. Will Congress support new technologies or stifle them? And how will legacy industries evolve to thrive in this changing technological landscape?
This year at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, innovators from around the globe came to exhibit technology that will change our world as we know it. Augmented and virtual reality technology will profoundly affect the media landscape, creating a more immersive and personalized experience. Drones have already changed the face of the retail industry, with Amazon making its first drone delivery in time for the holiday season. Self-driving cars will revolutionize the auto industry, decrease traffic deaths and bring increased mobility to the elderly and those with disabilities. In dealing with the challenges that will inevitably arise, will Congress choose to preserve old models and technologies, or will it embrace the new and allow American ingenuity to lead?
Five years ago, members of Congress sided with progress over fear. The resulting explosion of innovation proved them right. As other new disruptive technologies emerge, we urge policymakers to heed the lessons of SOPA and PIPA and allow new innovations to prosper, thrive and move our society forward.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books, Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro